In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Firstly, I’m not even going to begin with my own summary of Circe by Madeline Miller, because quite honestly, I don’t believe anything could equal the book’s own blurb. The book’s blurb describes quite exactly, the journey any perspective reader will embark on.
All in all, the story of Circe is exceptional. There is no better word, that I can think of whilst writing this review. The overarching plot of Circe, is the life of Circe, so the novel is aptly named. The sub-plots are what Circe endures in her lifetime, some of which will make you sad, some will make you angry. I think the book’s development of being a type of coming-of-age story, is what made the book so likeable and all consuming for me. Circe’s triumphs and losses were felt on a personal level, because it’s something all human beings can understand, empathise and relate with, as we all go through the journey of growing up and developing.
Miller’s method of storytelling in Circe is her strength. It keeps the chapters mostly short, which is something I really like in books, and the pace never really fizzles out from the very first page to the very last, which is quite an accomplishment. This, combined with Miller’s exceptional ability to make a novel that defies the concept of time, makes the story magical. On one page we’re in one time period, and then the next, the plot has jumped years ahead, which guaranteed I wasn’t going to lose interest.
I liked Circe, and I felt we were kindred in so many ways. I cared deeply for the character, as we literally grow with her, from the beginning of her life until the end of her story. She is a heroine worth all the admiration any prospective reader sees. She is that inner voice in all of us, that drives us to muster the strength we need most when it is needed.
All the characters were effective in contributing to the development of Circe, but there was one character, Telegonus, I just couldn’t like or, for the lack of a better word, accept. I really disliked the character, and how he treated Circe. He was extremely irritating due to his petulance, yet I believe Miller meant him to be the embodiment of youth and naivety, like in many ways, Circe had been at the beginning of the story. So, my dislike of Telegonus, is maybe more credit to Miller’s bow, that she created a character I detested so much.
The only issue I had with the novel was that the last 100-odd-pages. I felt it focused too much on Odysseus. I understand why it was necessary to have focus on him (for the story and his place in mythology with Circe), but I felt Miller spent just a fraction too long on him being centre stage. It sort of underwhelmed me as a reader, who’d been so engrossed in reading Circe’s thoughts and her ongoings, to suddenly have to read on and on, and at times, some repetition of the character Odysseus.
However, I am satisfied with the end of the story. Any qualms I have, such as described above with Odysseus, are minimal in comparison to how much I have adored Miller’s writing, and enjoyed the stories of Greek mythology through the life of Circe. I tend to determine the rating of books on any issues that arise with the plot etc when I’m reading the book, or on the likelihood I am to read it again. I would be happy to read it again, sometime in the future.
Miller doesn’t need any tricks or treats. Her writing style is consistent, well devised and effectual. When I read this book, confidence oozed out of the writing, whether Miller felt this way or not, I don’t know, but it sure as heck felt it. Without a doubt, Miller’s style of writing makes her one of the most talented authors I’ve ever read. Here are some examples of Miller’s enchanting writing:
I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the doors stand open (p.71)
Great gods smell fear like sharks smell blood, and they will devour you for it just the same (p.79)
“I asked her how she did it once, how she understood the world so clearly. She told me it was a matter of keeping very still and showing no emotions, leaving room for others to reveal themselves.” (p.265)
It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did. (p.274)
Overall, Circe delivers a story full of fantasy and greek mythology, that is definitely worth a read. I rated the book 5 stars on goodreads, as the site does not allow half stars. In truth, I would probably give Circe 4.5 stars, due to the issue of Odysseus, explained above, as it did impact my enjoyment of the novel. Although, once the issue passed, I was as in love with the book as I had been up until that point. It took me five days to read, as I found myself cherishing the last couple of chapters. This book evoked all sorts of emotions; tension, rage, mirth, despair, excitement. Well done Miller, and my great thanks, for creating such a beautifully written and thoroughly enjoyable story. I won’t be forgetting Circe anytime soon.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Published 10th April